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Big money for more transit officers

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

So, I feel like a bit of DHS spokesperson lately, but there's just a lot of security-related news coming out of the department these days. For example, Napolitano announced yesterday that $78 million in ARRA money has been allocated to adding more security officers and equipment to our country's transit systems.

The biggest chunk of money is going to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority ($35.9 million), followed by $9.56 million to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and $6.34 million to AMTRAK.

The press release specifies that the grants will be used for anti-terrorism teams (both overt and covert), explosive detection canine teams and mobile explosives detection screening teams that, I'm assuming, will be deploying some of the technology that DHS has been piloting in recent months.

DHS gets a new look

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Department of Homeland Security is making all kinds of changes these days. The latest is that they've revamped their Web site. To be quite honest, I can't remember what the old page looked like, but the new one seems fairly user friendly.

According to the press release, it's just one more step in how the department is trying to stay in touch with the public. Even more interesting, is that DHS has launched their own youtube Web site. I didn't have much time to watch the videos, but for the most part, they stress things like making sure your family is prepared for an emergency (and pointing out that most of us are not) as well as sharing with the public all the job opportunities available through the department.

In other DHS news, they just had the first quarterly meeting of the Federal Law Enforcement Advisory Board. There was no specific information regarding discussion or outcomes of the meeting, but I hope to make a few phone calls to see what was discussed (and if it's relevant to you out there in the security world). “By bringing together the different organizations that represent federal law enforcement, [Secretary Napolitano] recognizes the real value of the boots-on-the-ground perspective," said Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

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Are we too structured?

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I think this image that outlines the government's oversight of DHS speaks volumes:

dhs-oversight2

But the article is also interesting as well. (And you can look at a larger version of the photo there as well. I tried to insert a larger one but it took up the whole page.)

Making security more efficient

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Aah, the luxuries of home. I spent my long weekend on an island in the middle of Saranac Lake, N.Y. and while I love camping and wish I could do more of it, I must say, it's always nice to come home to electricity and running water. But, of course, back to the grind and while doing a little housekeeping this morning and rummaging through the old inbox, I came across this DHS press release about the department reaching its third milestone for the efficiency review that Napolitano ordered in March. Coincidentally, during my mini-vacation I had a chance to catch up on some reading (thanks to an afternoon of thunderstorms) and one of the articles I read was the 'Ideas Issue' of the Atlantic Monthly.

One of the ideas was to "civilize" DHS. In the article, James Fallows argues that the department should not exist and that it was only formed so the administration could appear to be responding to 9/11.

Since then, it has failed basic tests of bureaucratic effectiveness. One of the supposed benefits of amalgamation was to remove wasteful overlap so America could spend more money where it mattered and cut back everywhere else. In fact, as Cindy Williams of MIT has demonstrated, the shares of the DHS budget now devoted to the department’s individual parts—the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, etc.—are the same as they were when they were first lumped together.

However, he argues, disposing of the department at this point might actually be more disruptive than just moving it forward. I would say it's safe to say DHS is here to stay, but I think these recent initiatives to make the department more efficient are a testament to the rushed nature of the formation of the department. The DHS press release cites fairly common sense changes that, frankly, any private organization would have put in place long ago. For example, the release cites replacing office equipment and moving from separate phones, fax machines, copiers and scanners to all-in-one machines. Also, streamlining the external correspondence process and using DHS-wide purchase agreements for office supplies is cited as an example of improved efficiency.

The release also notes significant cost savings in various agencies under the DHS umbrella. For example, the Coast Guard plans to restructure maintenance for 1,800 boats, convert lights for buoys, and reduce maintenance and decreasing power consumption; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will utilize government vehicles instead of private rentals and eliminate subscriptions to publications available on-line; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will replace a management training that previously used private facilities with teleconferences, utilize filing systems and computer equipment from DHS’ excess property inventory rather than purchasing new products; and the Transportation Security Administration will recycle underutilized software applications.

Of course, I applaud all these separate agencies for finding ways to be more efficient, but I also think that Fallows has a point when questioning whether the department has really moved security forward. Thoughts?

Mexican madness

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

I start out every morning listening to Internet radio streams of the news (often WBUR, the NPR station out of Boston, just because). I'm always surprised at how many segments pique my security interest. One was a piece about the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's visit yesterday to San Diego’s Otay Mesa Port of Entry. While there she announced more than $20 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for Otay Mesa (and I'm pretty sure she's far too serious to recognize April Fools, so Otay Mesa can probably start planning to use that money).

Here's more about funds for border security from the DHS press release:
DHS and the General Services Administration will direct more than $400 million in ARRA funding to the Southwest border, including $269 million for port and other infrastructure projects in Otay Mesa, Antelope Wells, N.M., Los Ebanos, Texas, Corpus Christi, Texas, and Nogales, Arizona. $42 million will go toward Non-Intrusive Inspection Equipment (NIIE) at Southwest border ports of entry, including both low energy and large-scale systems—big enough to scan tractor-trailers. Secretary Napolitano also announced $50 million in SBInet funding to accelerate deployment of surveillance technology and associated command and control technologies in Arizona, including deployment in Nogales and Sonoita stations, and $50 million to pay for tactical communications modernization for the El Paso and Rio Grande Valley Sectors.

In general, I can't believe how many news reports I read about Mexico these days. I know Mexico is certainly a security threat, but it's been a security threat for years. I can't tell if things have truly gotten worse there or if the mainstream news media has once again jumped on the sensationalist bandwagon. It all started with that 60 Minutes piece by Anderson Cooper. Oh, that Anderson, he knows how to mix reporting with a healthy dose of sensationalism. Anyway, I guess what matters is that all this attention leads to continued efforts to secure our borders (and leads to more than just putting up a really, really big expensive fence).

DHS gets its research on

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

DHS just announced this afternoon the establishment of two new Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs): the Homeland Security Studies & Analysis Institute (HSSAI) and the Homeland Security Systems Engineering & Development Institute (HSSEDI).

“The award of these two contracts will take the department one step closer to Secretary Napolitano’s goal of creating ‘one DHS,’ by providing a superb research resource for the entire department,” said Bradley Buswell, Under Secretary for Science and Technology in the statement.

Here's more from the release:
The HSSAI, will be operated by Analytic Services based in Arlington, Va., to provide mission-focused homeland security analysis and expertise focusing on program objectives, system requirements, and metrics. Analytic Services is a not-for-profit public service institute that provides objective studies and analyses of the national security, homeland security, and public safety communities. The contract will be for one year with up to four extension options for a total estimated cost of up to $269 million.

The HSSEDI, to be operated by MITRE Corporation, will provide advice on concept evolution, development integration, best practices in lifecycle systems engineering and management, and program-level technical and integration expertise across the homeland security enterprise. HSSEDI will focus on “how” DHS can reach its objectives. The MITRE Corporation is a not-for-profit organization chartered to work in the public interest with expertise in systems engineering, information technology, operational concepts, and enterprise modernization. The contract will be for one year with up to four extension options for a total estimated cost of up to $443 million.

Not really sure what this means for the security industry exactly. Will these two research centers provide more comprehensive information about security issues? Will they contribute to product innovation? I don't know. Any thoughts?

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Napolitano gets down to business

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Monday, March 2, 2009

You may remember a few weeks back when Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, issued an array of action directives to evaluate the health and workings of DHS. Well, the directives are in and last week Napolitano went before the House Committee on Homeland Security to discuss "the path forward" for DHS.

There was lots of good news for security manufacturers with a call for improved technology:

It is difficult to think of an area of DHS operation where a greater use of cutting-edge technology would not improve capabilities. Our border security efforts, port screening, transportation security, customs processes, immigration programs, and preparedness and interoperability efforts could all benefit from a strong push to develop new technologies and implement them in the field.

She also discussed transportation security issues.

The review identified a number of areas where risks to transportation security could be reduced. Resources such as explosives detection systems and transit, rail, and port security personnel contained in the recently passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will enable the Department to accelerate the mitigation of risk in these areas.

Also, something I found interesting and evidently I had missed the issuance of this directive, was an evaluation of DHS's role in healthcare surge. I know I'm a little obsessed with pandemic flu outbreak and other healthcare preparedness issues, but I was surprised to see DHS involved in this issue. Napolitano stated that DHS's role would include:

DHS’s supporting role in coordinating response to such an incident, and how the Department’s preparedness and public communications efforts could better facilitate existing healthcare surge capacities.

Also, in case you missed Napolitano on 60 Minutes last night, here's the link (I couldn't get the video to play, but it could be my computer). It was a pretty frightening piece on the drug wars in Mexico, which basically concluded that the Mexican government is out-gunned, out-financed and often working in collaboration with drug cartels. Napolitano voiced concern that the violence will spill over into the U.S. and reiterated some of the points on border security.

Customs to curtains: So much change for DHS

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Monday, February 2, 2009

So not only is Janet Napolitano, the newly-appointed Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, charged with keeping the country safe, she may also have to prove her decorating skills.

In January, the National Capital Planning Commission approved a master plan to develop a new headquarters for various departments in the Department of Homeland Security. I'm sure they won't make Napolitano pick out curtains or review paint swatches (she has far too many pressing matters and perhaps those details have been hashed out anyway, since this project has been in the works for three years), but, I do wonder if this project meshes with Napolitano's efforts to make her department more lean and efficient?

According to a CCN article:

Napolitano said she will be seeking areas where her department can save money but still accomplish its mission. She cited expenses for facilities and vehicle fleets as possible examples. "Are we as lean as we can be?" she asked. "My perception is, overall we're lean."

The new headquarters are slated to be developed from a 176-acre abandoned psychiatric hospital compound into a massive Homeland Security Department headquarters complex in southeast Washington, which will house 14,000 of Homeland Security’s 218,000 employees, according to this article in the Federal TImes.

The General Services Administration, which acquired the property in 2004, has spent $13 million to stabilize the buildings and protect them from further disrepair. But the facilities suffered from years of neglect and will require tens of millions of dollars in fixes.

The GSA has requested $346 million for the first phase, a new headquarters for the Coast Guard, and future phases will construct new facilities for the Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

I don't know if that actually translates to being "lean," but I guess everyone has to live somewhere, right?

Traveling toward redemption?

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Here it is. My first post of 2009 and also my first post since I've been back to work after a somewhat lengthy holiday vacation that I spent most of sick with some kind of bird flu (or at least that is what I have been calling it).

While on the couch battling this wretched illness, I saw more TV promos for this Homeland Security USA reality show than I care to admit.

If you haven't seen it, here it is:

It's interesting to see the steps DHS has recently taken to improve its image. In addition to this reality show, TSA is running advertisements on select radio stations. WBZ 1030 is running them pretty regularly over in this neck of the woods. The sound bites provide tips on making your way through security lines easily and encourages listeners to visit TSA's web site to find more travel tips.

On paper, both these programs sound good. The TV program will help showcase the heroes that work to protect U.S. citizens on a daily basis, while the radio advertisements are attempting to get the message across that safety is TSA's priority. But I'm not sold.

Do you think these public relations initiatives are a wise investment of time and money on DHS' part? I know the department has been beat up by the general population since its inception but I don't think this is the wisest way to change public perception. The department's job is to keep the country and its people safe from a variety of risks; it is my opinion that it should focus on that task rather than TV and radio promotions.

But I'm just the editor of a trade publication.

Changes on the horizon

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

In the midst of all the noise surrounding Obama's presidential win, I completely forgot that the White House isn't the only building in Washington that will be under new management.

Here's today's statement from Michael Chertoff:
At the Department of Homeland Security, we are actively planning to leave the department strong in January 2009, an effort that has been a priority for my leadership team since early last year. Historically, we know transitions may be periods of increased vulnerability. We are keenly focused on ensuring a smooth hand-off to the new administration and working closely with the incoming transition team.
DHS has been aggressive in preparing internally for the upcoming transition, to ensure there are no gaps in the leadership team or in our planning efforts. Our transition is led by the Under Secretary for Management, who appointed U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Acton as the Director for DHS Presidential Transition in June 2008 to implement the department’s internal efforts, as well as coordinate with the new administration’s appointees.
Last year, we established a succession plan for all component agencies, ensuring that the top leadership in each component includes career executives who will preserve continuity of operations before, during and after the administration transition. We’ve trained and exercised those senior career employees to ensure that each component and office within DHS has capable leadership ready to move up and take the reins during an administration transition, and assist new appointees to be ready on day one. In addition, we are going beyond briefing materials to develop and implement improved processes to equip the new appointees with the tools they need, and the information and relationships required to be effective in their jobs.
In the coming weeks and months, we intend to include the transition team in the ongoing series of tabletop exercises that we have been running for some time, to educate the new administration on incident response procedures. On behalf the department, I extend my congratulations to the President-elect, and stand ready to work with the Senate and new appointees to quickly confirm the new senior leadership for the department.

I, for one, wish that I had a guy to handle transitions when they have come up in the past. Probably, would have saved me a few sleepless nights.

But in all seriousness, I'm very interested to see who the new appointees will be and what they see as the future of the department. You?

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